The Brule Runs Through It

My good friend, John Beth, loves to venture into fly fishing’s past. This was a great year to do it, as he reports below. Tell us about it, John…

I had planned a September fishing trip to the historic and beautiful Bois Brule (Burnt Wood) river in northern Wisconsin with friends Bob Harrison and Scott Allen. We each planned one day fishing from a canoe with legendary guide Damian Wilmot; the other two would walk and wade the river elsewhere on their own.

To call Damian’s boat just a canoe would be a serious understatement. Damian, and his craftsman friend Lloyd Hautajarvi, had spent two, painstaking years restoring a magnificent, twenty foot, 1895, Joe Lucius canoe. Joe was a legendary canoe builder on the Brule, and one of the upper-river “lakes” is named after him—Lucius lake.

This float for me became something special. Damian had announced, earlier this month, that he would be retiring at the end of this season from full time guiding. For 29 seasons he has guided those who would cast a fly to a wild Brule trout. As an homage to the river, to him, to the wonderful Lucius canoe, and the spirits of all those past who, in my heart, are still there, I wanted my last day in that boat with him to be forever burned in my memory. The solution was quite simple. I love old fly gear–what I have of it – and I still fish with it. It is my connection to our sport’s past. The only way to know what it must have been like to fly fish 100+ years ago…is to fish that way!

On my day to fish from the canoe with Damian, the Lucius slid silently into the storied water at Stones Bridge, after a stormy morning had delayed us a couple of hours. I was soon casting my 1905 Millward Greenheart fly rod with a silk line, Macleay reel, made in Inverness Scotland in 1895–the same year that our Lucius canoe had been “born.”  There’s more…Damian had tied on a “Rat Faced McDougall “ dry fly, and I cast to (and caught) several native brookies in McDougall Springs, and oh yes, this Lucius Canoe was once owned by the Alexander McDougall Castle family.

There has been, perhaps, nothing more poignant than those moments and that day in my 50+ years of fly fishing. I was wishing a mysterious, ghostly fog would creep across the river and around us from the deep, Brule valley woods at our sides, and of course, It did.

The warm day too quickly faded away. Each push of Damian’s pole from the back of the canoe, just as Joe had done over a century ago, pushed us closer to our landing, and farther from the magic of our day of fishing wild brook trout in simpler times, as they did so long ago. It could not have been a better day.

As we closed the day, I was haunted by a strange sense of happiness and sadness.  Stepping out of the stunning, mahogany-trimmed green, cedar canoe for the last time, and looking back down this amazing river, I realized I wasn’t going back to reality–I was leaving it.

Ready to go–in the refitted Lucius canoe from 1895.


And, John, let’s fish the Rat-Face Mcdougall, a famous Brule River fly.


Success–a nice Brule River Brookie.


Even the fog cooperated, putting the river in the right mood for times past.


The Brule Runs Through It.


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